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How to get the most out of B2B CRM

Two women wearing business clothes sat next to each other at a desk looking at paperwork and taking notes

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Why read this? : We share how the Business-to-Business (B2B) buying process works and where CRM fits in. Learn the key activities which go into a B2B CRM program. We also share a case study to show how to connect it to your other marketing activities. Read this to learn the skills you need to run a successful B2B CRM program. 

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a big topic. Last time we wrote about it, we only covered the basics. For example, its role in brand development and in your marketing plan.

We mainly focussed on how you use CRM activity to drive customer loyalty.

We felt it was worth going back to CRM though, as there’s clearly more to it. Much more. 

In particular, CRM often plays a important role in Business-to-Business (B2B) marketing. 

Two women wearing business clothes sat next to each other at a desk looking at paperwork and taking notes

We haven’t written a lot on B2B before, so let’s start with some context. Why are B2B customers different? And what does that mean for your B2B CRM program?

B2B Context - What’s different?

In Business-to-Consumer (B2C) marketing, the buying process is usually simple. 

The customer decides what to buy, buys it and the consumer consumes it.

Sometimes customer and consumer are the same. Stuff you buy for yourself. And sometimes they’re different. If you buy something for someone else, or they buy something for you. 

In Business-to-Business (B2B) marketing though, it’s different. It’s more complex. 

Close up of two hands in a handshake

The customer buys on behalf of their business. Business processes govern buying decisions. These decisions can affect everyone in the business. And there’s also a need to be transparent in how decisions are made.

B2B customers are usually either :-

  • procurement specialists – their job is to negotiate the best deal on standard items. e.g. office equipment, company cars, raw materials.
  • decision influencersexpert professionals who advise on specialised and specific buying decisions. 

Price is usually the focus with procurement specialists. You win by having good negotiation, rather than marketing skills. But there’s more marketing opportunities with decision influencers, so that’s where we focus. 

Professional and informed decisions

B2B customers mostly put their personal buying preferences to one side. They take a professional approach to buying. There’s more at stake. The spends are bigger. The decision affects more people. So the process goes more slowly, and more thought goes into it. 

B2B customers gather information before making decisions. They compare options. Ask for opinions from the experts in the business. They got through all these steps before making an informed decision. 

There’s less emotion involved in the decision (compared to consumer purchasing).  B2B buyers mostly make rational decisions. They often have to justify their decisions, so the rationale and benefits have to be clear. 

The influence of culture and processes

The B2B buying approach is heavily influenced by the organisation’s culture and processes.

In areas such as healthcare, education and law, professional integrity is key. There’s rarely room for emotion. Buying decisions are rational, and have a clear rationale. 

There are often controls and systems to validate the integrity of the buying process. 

Running track with hurdles set up for a sprint race

For example :- 

  • committees who approve decisions so there’s no individual bias.
  • rules and checklists governing what buyers and recommenders can do.
  • complex submission, approval and review processes for big buying decisions. 

Organisations set up these controls because there’s usually a lot at stake in the B2B buying decision. The sums involved are usually much more than individual B2C sales. 

More value per sale and per customer

A B2B sale covers more people, bigger quantities and bigger dollar values. 

To the B2B seller, that means the value of an individual B2B customer is high. If you can influence that customer to regularly buy from or recommend you, you can drive a high level of on-going sales. 

Because of the that extra value, B2B businesses often invest in :-

  • sales teams to contact customers and have one-to-one selling conversations. 
  • meetings, events and other public relations activities to build connections.
  • B2B CRM systems to manage customer relationships long-term. 

B2B Case Study - context

To bring B2B to life, we’re going to use a case study based on an actual B2B business. We’ll outline their context, and then go into their B2B CRM program. 

We’ll obscure some facts (the company name, category and target audience for example) to protect their anonymity.

But from a learning point of view, it’s close enough to what happens in real B2B businesses.

Let’s call this business “Sustenagen”.

Mock up logo for Sustenagen brand - health and well-being

It makes medical products which it sells to consumers and hospitals. They see Healthcare Professionals (HCPs) – doctors and physiotherapists – as their main B2B customers. These B2B customers decide which products to use in hospitals and make recommendations to their patients.

Sustenagen believe their product is the most advanced on the market. Quality is high with many functional benefits. It’s the most premium priced in the category. Its brand essence centres around expertise in health and well-being. 

That comes through in their choices of tangible brand assets. For example, their brand colours are purple which signifies authority and blue which signifies trust and calmness. (see our colour psychology in marketing article for more on this). 

Their intangible brand assets such as their values and personality, include words like “confident”, “expert”, “pioneering”, and “the best”. Their brand tone of voice is rational and professional. They regularly refer to scientific research and reports.

(Note, many healthcare businesses use this type of competitive strategy).

B2B to drive HCP recommendation

The rules around advertising medical products limits how much they can do with consumers. For example, they can’t advertise certain products, and have to be careful about claims they make.

Instead, they prioritise B2B activities to drive HCP recommendation. The HCP is perceived as an unbiased expert adviser. Their recommendation influences buying decisions at a hospital and individual patient level.

There’s 2 clear benefits to this HCP focus. 

Doctor in white coat holding a stethoscope with arms crossed

First, the HCP usually makes the same recommendation to all patients. Win that recommendation and you drive sales with all those patients. The sales impact of their recommendation is high. 

Also, there’s a regular churn of patients. When they get better, they stop buying. But there’s hardly any churn with the HCPs, unless they retire. They stay in the category (and make recommendations) for a long time. This lifetime engagement value makes the value of their recommendation even higher.

Their goal is to persuade HCPs that Sustenagen products offer superior health benefits. HCPs will recommend what they believe to be the best products. 

Activities

Sustenagen’s HCP marketing plan focuses on 3 areas of brand activation :-

  • advertising in relevant journals to drive awareness.
  • face to face selling via a national sales team to drive trial and maintain loyalty.
  • their B2B CRM system which drives consideration. 

These channels all connect together. The advertising regularly promotes content and resources on the CRM program, for example. The customer database creates a single customer view of all interactions with the sales team and the CRM program.

High priority HCPS (e.g. ones who don’t currently recommend) get the most attention from the sales team. Sales team members can check the the HCP’s details in the database before they meet them. They go in better prepared knowing the history of previous contacts. 

The B2B CRM system helps the business keep in touch with those less frequently visited. (e.g. customers who already recommend). 

It’s also used to send out invites to HCP events organised by the sales team. At these events, expert speakers talk about relevant topics. The invites are targeted. The HCP has to have a known interest in the topic, and live within a reasonable travelling distance.

Let’s look at how all this works in practice. 

B2B CRM - Membership

The key entry point to the program is the sign-up and membership section on the B2B CRM website. The entry point is important. It sets the expectation for everything which follows. (see our design psychology article for more on entry points).

Signing up gives the HCPs access to more valuable content, especially downloadable resources. The brand team work hard to make sure content and resources are genuinely valuable to the HCP. They’re written by experts, and are always educational and practical. 

There’s much evidence the “promise” of the B2B CRM program works. Membership growth is consistently strong. Unsubscribe rates are less than 10% per year. 

B2B CRM - Regular contact

Once the HCP signs up, they get a welcome email and a few days later, a welcome box in the mail. This box is packed with relevant printed materials and practical items to use in their practice.  

For example, they get a product comparison chart. This highlights the features and benefits of all products in the category.

They use independent experts to create this chart. The company trusts HCPS to compare the facts on each product, and work out Sustenagen is superior to competitors.

Delivery driver handing over a cardboard box, with a Sustenagen logo on it

B2B CRM - quarterly newsletter

HCPs also then get a quarterly newsletter. This is the backbone of the B2B CRM program. It goes out to every contact in the B2B CRM database.

However, though it appears to be 1 newsletter, there are in fact 3 slightly different versions. Each version has the same core articles. But the introduction and call to action change based on the HCP’s role – doctor, physiotherapist or “other”. 

The “news” in this newsletter includes :-

  • details of new resources and materials.
  • information about updates to the product or packaging.
  • a calendar of upcoming HCP events. 

B2B CRM - e-mail contact

Separate to the newsletter, the B2B CRM program also sends out targeted emails. 

These are specific to the HCP’s role (e.g. doctor-focussed content content) and location. (e.g. details of nearby upcoming events). 

There’s an average of around 3 email contacts with HCPs between each quarterly newsletter. It can vary though, depending on their role and location.

B2B CRM - website content

The B2B CRM website is where HCPs interact with the brand online. It acts as a central hub of information, and has good SEO ranking and many backlinks.

It’s regularly updated with new content. This includes useful articles, information and references for HCPs to use in their day to day jobs.

There’s also relevant information about the products and the science behind them. 

The resources page is very popular. Here, HCPs can download articles, tools and other materials. 

Women typing on a laptop with a stethoscope on the desk next to her

They can also request physical items be sent out to them e.g. information guides, practical tools, branded stationery and memory sticks.

B2B CRM - Event calendar

The website also has a calendar of HCP events. Visitors can filter these by topic, date and location.

HCPs can directly book tickets via the website. For some events, they can sign up for webinar broadcasts to view live, or watch afterwards. 

Event speakers are all expert HCPs with a relevant and interesting topic to share. The event information shares their bios with the audience. 

They’re paid for speaking at the event.

A row of people sitting in the audience taking writing notes into their notebooks

B2B CRM - Sales team face-to-face meetings

On the website, there’s also contact information for head office and for each sales representative by the area they cover.

Before each face-to-face meeting, the sales representative looks at the HCP’s contact history on the CRM database. 

This is a record of their interactions. For example, events they attended. Materials they’ve requested or accessed. Summaries of previous meetings. The sales team go into each meeting prepared. 

Female doctor with stethoscope around her neck talking with a female patient

They know the HCP’s interests and previous interactions. No need to repeat previous messages or regather information. If a sales rep leaves, their replacement can get quickly up to speed because all the history is there for them.

B2B CRM - Pulling it all together

Each of these brand activations helps move customers along the brand choice funnel. 

Some content is pushed out to maintain regular contact. The sales force contacts for example, and the regular targeted newsletters and e-mails from the B2B CRM program. But there’s also a lot of pull activities, like the website, the resources and the events

There’s 3 key skills you need to run these different elements of a B2B CRM program. 

Project management skills

First, you need strong  project management skills.

There are lots of “mini” marketing projects here. The newsletter content. The events. Website updates. These need to be briefed, created, approved and sent out regularly. 

Strong project management helps make sure everything happens when it needs to. 

Customer experience

Then, you need customer experience skills. Every interaction between the customer and the B2B CRM program is a chance to educate. To solved their problems and make their lives better. 

You also pull on marketing communication skills like advertising, public relations and digital marketing. You write briefs to run a co-ordinated activity program to drive awareness, consideration, trial and loyalty.

Marketing technology

Finally, you also need to understand how marketing technology works to run a B2B CRM program.

There’s a necessary set of systems, processes and IT skills to make it work seamlessly. To make everything reliable and secure. 

It needs regular maintenance and upgrades, for example. You need to be across those. 

You need to know how to set up your digital data system. That’s how you make sure each HCP gets an experience tailored to their specific needs. 

overhead shot of many laptops and other pieces of technology on a table

You also need to know how to pull out digital insights. These help you better understand what your B2B customers need.  

These are just some of the martech challenges you face with a B2B CRM program.

Did the B2B CRM program work?

This Sustenagen example of a B2B CRM program is based on a real brand. At the time it was seen as very successful. It had a growing membership, with a strong correlation to HCP recommendation of the products. 

We recently reviewed “Sustenagen’s” current B2B CRM program. And the strategy and activities seem largely the same. This would imply their B2B CRM program still works.

They’ve refreshed the look and feel. But the key messages and customer experience seem relatively unchanged. Clearly, there’s a strong proposition which continues to add value. We know their product has continued to grow market share and retains its superiority position.

Net Advocacy Rating

Part of the regular marketing data gathered from this B2B CRM program was a Net Advocacy Rating score (also known as the Net Promoter Score).

We regularly tracked changes in this score and analysed the changes against sales. 

The correlation between advocacy and sales over time was consistently high.

Though correlation doesn’t imply causation, it was still a strong sign that engaging HCPs with a relevant B2B CRM program helped drive sales. 

Group of game pieces following one game piece with added caption - we love you

Consumers regularly said their choices were influenced by HCP recommendation. It was very clear. Drive recommendation to drive sales.

The B2B CRM program helped those HCPs engage with Sustenagen. They became better informed about the category and brand, and were more likely to recommend it.

Conclusion - Get the most out of B2B CRM programs

The buying decision in Business-to-business (B2B) marketing can be complex. 

It’s a professional, rather than personal decision. The buying company’s culture influences the decision. There’s a much larger value attached to the decision or recommendation.  

Our example here showed how a B2B CRM program isn’t a stand-alone activity. It links together different activities targeting customers at different parts of the funnel. 

Advertising drives customers to your B2B CRM website. Your website signs them up, and you contact them regularly with newsletters, emails and events. This gives you a “relationship” to “manage” with the “customer”. They’re happy to hear from you, and to interact with your sales team. 

You need 3 key skills to run a successful B2B CRM program. Project management. Customer experience. Knowing how to set up and use marketing technology. Get those right, and your CRM program will drive your business for years to come. 

Check out our article on the broad principles of CRM to learn more. And contact us if you have a more specific B2B CRM need.

Photo Credits

Two women signing documents : Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

Handshake : Photo by Cytonn Photography on Pexels

Hurdles : Photo by Jeremy Chen on Unsplash

Doctor with red stethoscope : Photo by Online Marketing on Unsplash

Diver handing over Sustenagen package (adapted) : Photo by RoseBox رز باکس on Unsplash

Logging on to laptop with stethoscope : Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

People taking notes : Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

Doctor in consultation : Photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash

Laptops : Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

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